Brother Martin, Sister Kate - Welcome to Penang

Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
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Trip End Jan 04, 2012


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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Saturday, October 1, 2011

Welcome to Penang. Penang is an island hanging off the west coast of mainland Malaysia, accessed by either an extraordinarily long suspension bridge or a ferry which departs Butterworth frequently. Penang is a multi-cultural centre, with a colonial charm ringing back to the 1800's and the East India Trading Company. Britain had its tentacles around this pleasant island to enable access to a lot of south East Asia, a staging point for trading with both Malaysia and Siam to the North. Because of this Penang stayed within the colony into the 20th century and is heavily influenced by the British. The street names are typical British, Beach Road, George Street, Love Lane and so forth, and the Islanders speak a mixture of Malay, Mandarin, English etc – A very talented people.

I like it. Blog Done.

Well OK, if I need to write some more details I better get into it. Day 1 would be spent in the vicinity of the Hostel, enabling us to stick to our pedestrian roots. The Hostel is based on Love Lane, which is home to many small budget hotels and hostels and the Lane sits on the edge of the 'protected zone’ of the Unesco Heritage Site of Georgetown. Before starting we sat around a table and stretched the map of the town out in front of us. Numbers 1-26, lots of different buildings, including temples, museums, heritage buildings, mansions, a fort. Without the need of a lonely planet (which I am aware does offer a walking tour) we were able to draw a line on the map, dot to dot – a cheap tour.

First stop, community centre – photo taken – done.  Second stop, Art Gallery – photo taken – done. Nope what the deuce?!, that’s not the Art Gallery, that’s the Town Hall. Well we can tick that off anyways. Now where’s the Art Gallery gone? Oh, it’s inside the Community Centre, let’s go back there then. Damnit, the gates are locked so we can’t go in. Number 2 on the list is struck from the records – no Art Gallery. Back past the Town Hall, nice building (very white and yellowy) and then past the City Hall, nice building (very white). God it’s hot. We have made it to number 5, the Esplanade, which is a little walk alongside the beach, a bit of a shame but you can clearly see a lot of litter being washed up. The Esplanade is a bit of a freebie as far as the numbers go, we were going to walk this way anyhow. Number 6 and we have to spend money – Fort Cornwallis.

The Fort was built by a Francis Light when he took Penang over. He had the town organized around the star shape fort with the roads emanating from its promontory on the north east corner of Penang. We walked around the Fort, took some touristy photos of Cannons and a Lighthouse and watched a heavy set man suffer worse than me in the heat. He was dripping wet and maybe should have picked a better colour T-Shirt to go out in. Grey just shows up the sweat more.

We sat for a while under a tree, as even though Kate had been filled in on the 26 item schedule the dizziness of exertion from walking past the first 6 numbers over a 200m stretch of road had been just a little too much. Ample time was given while looking at some noisy large canary type birds flying around above for Kate to recover from ‘Marts walking tour of Georgetown parts 1-6’.

We snuck a view of item 7 from Fort Cornwallis (cheating a little but cheating ourselves in the end), which was a Clock tower dedicated to Queen Victoria (1 foot of Clock tower of each year of her Reign – 60 in all). Disappointingly, it didn’t get any more exciting when we walked past it 10 minutes later on the continuation of the tour. The hands just showed the time to be 10 minutes later.

Racking up the numbers quickly, we took in a quick walk of an old Marina Pier (8) which was being set up for a shindig of some kind and trampled off along the front further to the Jetty (Number 9 – We could have crossed this one off yesterday when we arrived!). Number 10, the Clan Jetties where people had placed their houses on some piers, were a little set back from the road (on piers clearly) and appeared slightly as if we would be encroaching on these people’s privacy a little too much to actually enter the Jetty. We crossed it off as done as we’d done the miles.

We were flagging a little at this stage and so a few numbers were duly culled. We decided we did not need to see multiple temples, or multiple mosques and so chose a couple that were next to each other, but not before we would take a quick break.

Into a Coffee shop and a Cola Float later (I had never had one of these, and Kate’s shock at this suggests I was deprived as a child – after savouring the creamy cola, I decided I wasn’t deprived – If anything my parents were probably saving me from ruining both a perfectly good ice cream and a perfectly good Cola). Kate enjoyed a Rose Float which is a bit like Turkish delight flavour.

Through supreme planning, our next destination (11 I think) was directly aross the road. The Pinang Peranekan Mansion displays the culture of a rac of people of mixed Chinese/Malay roots. The building was nicely decorated, they must have been doing very well for themselves. The chapel forming part of the Mansion (sadly not on our list – we can call this 11a) had a peaceful quality as it could only be accessed through the back of the house down a small secretive alley. The abundance of bats swinging from the ceiling also gave a nice uncomfortable quality when you were standing directly underneath.

After the Mansion, we strolled through Little India and it was like being in a different town. All hustle and bustle, we were left to ourselves while the locals got on with things. The place was a hive of colour and noise and I nearly got ran over by a moped while trying to avoid an awning which must have stepped out in front of me.

Temple 13 (Little India was number 12) and Temple 14 were right next to each other. 14 was closed and 13 (Kuan Yin Teng) was a cheery little number, all newly decorated.. Photos inside the door showed the renovation process with before and after shots. I deposited a small donation to help towards the cause; it’s always good to see these things being up kept. The heat was reaching at this point unbearable levels, and Kate’s dart across the courtyard of the temple to avoid getting hot was a bit ridiculous to behold. The renovation thing is something which seems to be at the forefront in Georgetown at the moment. We witnessed quite a few buildings along the front being re-painted or being renovated, clearly a push at trying to restore the protected area to its glamorous roots.

The Kapitan Keling mosque, slightly off the beaten track, we did not quite know what to expect from the often underrated number 15.

We found a shock.

We walked down the path up to the entrance to the mosque. The mosque is pretty clear in its direction. Tourists will not be allowed to take photos during prayer times etc etc, No shoes etc etc. I get a little nervy. Rules make me nervous because it means someone is probably watching. Putting their shoes on and walking the other direction are two people we have been pretty much walking the same route as – they could have only been here for 2 minutes as they left nearly at the same time as us from number 14. This will be a nice quick stop.

I cannot remember his name, but he approached us as we walked up to the entrance to the mosque. He had a big smile, a big beard and he welcomed us in. Giving me a black cloak to pass onto Kate he introduced himself to us and then the conversation went something as follows.

"And what is your name Brother?"

“Martin”

“And what is your Sisters name?” (He says turning to Kate putting on her cloak)

“Kate” Replied a slightly nervous Kate drowned in her gown on the hot day.

 “You are welcome here, I will show you around, a free tour, everything Is free and I hope you enjoy. My English is not so good so please tell me if you do not understand.”

“Brother Martin, Sister Kate…Follow me” (this relaxed us into the fact that he did not think we were brothers and sisters)”

He showed us to the main hall and explained the room and the way the mosque points to Mecca. He explained the cleaning process of the Muslims prior to prayer, and he showed us how the Muslims pray. He explained the prayer routine (5 times a day) and when these prayers occur.

All the time he scattered his conversation with…

“Brother Martin, Sister Kate, if you have any questions please ask – I speak very quickly as I learnt my English from my American Brothers”

“Do you understand Sister Kate?”

“I’m very sorry if I talk to quickly Brother Martin”

“Brother Martin, Sister Kate – if you would just follow me”.

The signs were ominous. We had done this too many times in places that were not mosques.  A free tour, a well spoken (if quickly spoken) man explaining things in a pleasant fun manner. Good humour. Intelligent. Extremely smiley. I felt around in my pocket to make sure I had some change for when the time came.

“Brother Martin, Sister Kate – Please follow me and we will finish the tour”.

We followed our brother to a small room packed with books on all sides with a small table and 4 chairs in the centre. Books with the teachings of Islam all over the place. As I entered, I had forgotten to take my shoes off

“Brother Martin, would you feel more comfortable without your shoes” (Excellent man management – what he really meant was, “Take your shoes off, man”.)

 I sat next to Kate and scanned the room, my eyes catching some of the titles but generally I was feeling uncomfortable. The sort of uncomfortable I felt when we were in Shanghai in that damn tea-house.

In the corner of the room sat a Donation box.   Right, how much.

The room was air-conditioned and he reached into a fridge to pull out two sealed plastic cups of water with straws.

“Just sit and cool down Brother Martin and Sister Kate and I will explain some more and then you can go on your way with your tours”

He talked a little more about Mecca and then sat and chatted about himself and about ourselves. Ready to go and intent on gazumping him at his own game, I turned my head towards the donation box.

“I see you have a donation box, is it ok if we give something towards the upkeep of the mosque (I was thinking of giving a couple of quid – it was a good tour after all, one of our best)”

“No, that’s ok Brother Martin – you are not Muslim, you do not need to give anything. Only Muslims donate money to the mosque. I am here to try and help people understand. Islam has had a lot of bad publicity lately and we are not like that”. “Please take these books to have a read as it may clarify some things and I hope you have enjoyed the tour”.

Bewildered, we took the two books. After putting my shoes back on, I turned to the kind gentleman and shook his hand while thanking him. How bad I feel for not remembering his name. How bad I feel for judging so early.

We walked, a little quiet at first away from the mosque. We couldn’t quite believe what had just happened. Someone had been nice without demanding money. They had given their time to help. So what if there was an ulterior motive.

We popped into the Penang Museum on the way back to the hostel and it was ok, nothing amazing but it reinforced some of the things we had read throughout the day. We both smiled thinking back about the chirpy big guy with the beard. Good day finished on an absolute high.
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